This is an interview I did with Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional on Sat. December 16th, 2000 in St. Petersburg, FL.
How long have you been Dashboard Confessional?
I recorded last year and released it but I didn’t play any shows or anything like that, I played just a few select shows like I played with Saves The Day because they talked me into it and then I played a couple of coffee house shows but then I didn’t do anything because I was in another band for a few months and the record still sold pretty well so I thought I should go out and try and do something to support it so I have been on tour now for 2 and a half months. And now its over… tomorrow is the last show and then I get to go home and see my mom.
How long have you been writing music?
Umm.. well… a long time. I really don’t know when I wrote my first song but… a long time.
And you said you have been in a few bands…?
Yea, I was in a band called Further Seems Forever most recently. I was in The Agency, they are on Fiddler Records, Further Seems Forever was on Tooth & Nail. And I was in Vacant Endings (spelling) and they are on Fiddler Records also but I am not in those bands right now.
Do you plan on staying solo?
No, it was never supposed to be just me that is why it is called Dashboard Confessional and not Chris Carrabba. That’s why tonights show had my friend Dan who played bass and an instrument called the “mellotica” (spelling) because it is supposed to for my friends that are free or don’t have to work or are on hiatus with their bands are welcome to come along and play. The crowd is always a big big part of it with their singing along and everything so I never really thought of it as a solo project. I am gonna take a drummer out on the next tour or the tour after that for sure.
What made you decide to do something as original as this?
As opposed to just a standard band? These are just the songs I was writing and I wanted to be in the studio again and do something in the studio and be productive. I was also in a band that, as bands are, very regimented ya know standard, the same guys all the time which I enjoyed, I love the guys but I had all these other friends who were in bands and I was like “well wouldn’t it be great if I had something that whenever they were around they could play with me” and like I said ya know when my friends bands were home and if I have a show somewhere and they could come with me and play whatever instrument they play. So that was kind of the initial plan for doing it this way but sometimes I like to be up there all by myself too, because it’s scary and fun.
How do you feel about “Swiss Army Romance”?
I am very proud of the record but it is just kind of insighted to where I was at that particular point of my life I guess, I write from the heart so you can kind of tell what I am feeling when you listen to those songs. I never really listen to it but ya know I play those songs every night so its like it brings me back to where I was when I wrote those songs so I am fond of it for memory sake and I think it’s a solid record so, I like it.
The name Dashboard Confessional, how did you think of that?
Well, I wasn’t sure like at one point I was like “well its just me for now so I guess I am supposed to call it Chris Carrabba” but then I felt really uncomfortable doing that for various reasons, I felt really vein so I had written a song called “The Sharp Hint Of New Tears” which at that point wasn’t called “The Sharp Hint Of New Tears” and in the song it says “on the way home, this car hears my confessions.” So that name kind of popped into my head, Dashboard Confessional, and I thought that would be a good name for the tune but then I was like “well that sounds like a band name” so I was like “well im gonna save it incase I start another band” and then I was like “well why cant I just call this band Dashboard Confessional, and so that’s kind of a long winded answer.
I think it fits really well because, well I listen to the record in the car and like when you’re in a car and your by yourself you think about your feelings and think about how you relate, and its just all around a perfect name.
Well seriously Josh, that’s actually a really solid capture of where I came up with the name. Because it had to do with that line and then I started thinking about it and I was like “ya know, I do a lot of driving” especially being in a band and I break cd players from listening to them soo much and like, you lose the outside world and become really introspective, and try not to crash, but and that’s kind like, it was very appropo to what I was doing.
I read that you were a pre-school teacher?
I used to be a pre-school teacher and I am an administrator at a elementary school now for about seven years I have been. Total seven years I have been doing it because I was in high school when I started the pre-school.
Do the parents ever get a little worried because of the tattoos?
Well, to be honest with you the parents don’t really see the tattoos very often because I wear long sleeve shirts but then again the local newspapers have done a few articles and one of them was the cover of the entertainment section. Ya know the parents read that newspaper so they were like “oh so you have lots of tattoos” and I don’t keep it secret. It’s funny, all the kids know, they just notice if the shirt sleeve comes up a little but they don’t care at all. And the parents, I gotta give them credit, they don’t seem to care much at all.
That’s very surprising, you know how parents are, especially in elementary school.
It is surprising, and I think its because they got to know me first and know that I care for the kids first before I care about my tattoos or whatever and so since they knew me well it didn’t bother them when they found out. But I guess if I walked in there with a short sleeve shirt and asked for a job and my first day came in with my tattoos blazin’ or whatever I don’t know that I would make to many fans among the parents. But Im on a sabbatical right now, Im at a leave of absence for about a year to try and tour full time.
Do they all know about Dashboard Confessional?
Yea, my family there at the school is incredibly supportive as a matter of fact I even thanked Mrs. Noush, who is my vice principal and everyone at JC Mitchell, which is the elementary school that I work at. I thanked them, they are incredibly supportive. I have a young staff, because what I do, Im in charge of the day care and so I have about 12 counselors that work for me and they all come out to my shows and stuff, a lot of the teachers come out to my shows. You wouldn’t expect it, even when I was in heavier bands before, they like this better, but when I was in heavier bands they still came out and its really cool.
What do you listen to?
I listen to the Movie Life, I love the Movie Life. I listen to the Rocking Horse Winner, that’s the girl who sings on my record’s band. And then I listen to the old standards like I listen to a lot of the Beach Boys, I listen to Hot Rod Circuit, I listen to a lot of Tom Petty and I dunno, I could go on for a long time. We drive sometimes 17 hours so we listen to lots of music.
Swiss Army Romance, the song, I can relate that to pretty much every person I know. Was there a particular person in your life at that time that you wrote the song about or was it about a group of people?
Well yea there is a particular person in my life that I wrote that about, or that I started to write that about, and then I realized after I wrote the first verse that that person was indictive of a lot of people. Or that trait in that person was in a lot of people, and myself too sometimes I think, and everyone frankly. It was initially about one person and eventually about a lot of people that I know and its not meant to be derogatory, and I don’t think it is because I know its about me too. As a matter of fact theres a line in there that says “you’re dying to look smooth in your tattoos but you’re searching just like everyone, you could be anyone.” That is as much about me as it is anyone else.
What do you think, in you, brings out the way you are able to vocalize your emotions?
Well I think that I am not the best singer in the world and I think that I am not the best guitarist in the world but I really know what I feel, I guess. I used to dress it up a little more and then eventually I was just like ya know what, theres nothing wrong with saying what I truly feel. So that’s it. And if other people can relate to it, that wasn’t my intention, obviously to alienate people, but it wasn’t my intention to do something that everybody can relate to or that I was trying to speak for a whole group of people, that wasn’t my intention at all. But the fact that so many people can relate to it is kinda telling, it must be kind of basic feelings that people have and I was lucky enough to capture that, I don’t think that I intended to.
What is your personal favorite song on the record?
Umm, I dunno, that’s a weird question because I don’t really listen to my own record. I guess my favorite song changes every night depending on if somebody asks me to play a song, the fact that they knew it and knew it by name its my favorite song that night. It means that somebody cared enough to pay attention to the song title, which I don’t even always do. There is some of my favorite bands and I would go to the show and want them to play a song really bad and just be like “track 6!!”
Is there any songs that you really don’t like on the record?
No because like I said they are like a real snapshot of where I was. However, that is kind of a lie. “The Sharp Hint Of New Tears” is really painful for me to sing, like it really… all those songs dredge up something to me every night when I play them I really feel whatever it is, I remember exactly what it was and exactly how bad it felt, or how good it felt, and that song felt particularly bad, or I felt particularly bad at the time when I wrote that song. And so it makes me feel band, I don’t play it very often.
So how has the tour been with River City High, Midtown, and New Found Glory?
Its been awesome, especially considering that I am definitely the odd man out. I play an acoustic guitar, its been strange like the nights that I have to play first if there’s no local band or whatever if its just my turn to play first I get really nervous if the kids are ravenous for punk rock like I said and they have been standing in line and they get up there and they see my silly guitar and me sitting on a stool, they are like “what are we in for with this??”.But I have to give the kids the most credit, well I have to give credit to all the bands for having the guts to take me out, like New Found Glory didn’t have to suggest me for this tour, but they like it so they suggested it and I am really grateful for that. And Midtown has taken me out before, just like a month before this tour, and they same goes for them. But I have to give credit to the kids because you would think that they would only, I even think that they’re not gonna like it. I don’t give them enough credit sometimes, I just initially think they’re gonna hate me. But they don’t. They may not all like me, but a good amount of them are really receptive so its been an incredible tour to be on, just to have my eyes open. Like, because Im a punk rock kid but I like music like this. I like to listen to singer/songwriter stuff like Pedro The Lion. Obviously I am not alone, in that. Its been really neat, Ive loved this tour and plus its been an incredibly cool tour because New Found Glory and I, well the guys in NFG and me have been friends for a long time. My old band Vacant Endings went out with them on their first before anybody was anything. And the guys in Midtown have become my really good friends over the past year. And I have been able to become really good friends with Hot Rod Circuit and River City High, and the Movie Life, and everybody that has been involved at any point on this tour. I have never been on any tour where there was not any competition at all. I have been on other tours with other big bands, and I wont name names, when I was in my other bands that were really competing for each others fans and each other sales. But like were out there pushing each others records. I can tell you that every night I hear the guy from New Found Glory say “go check out the dash stuff” and every night I say “check out the video for sale at the Midtown table”, CRVM check it out, its got lots of cool stuff on it.
What do you do in your spare time?
If I ever had any spare time I suppose I would skateboard and write songs. I write songs more then I skateboard these days because it seems necessary for me to have fresh songs when Im out on the road because I have to play them every single night. And I enjoy reading and seeing my friends which I never get to do anymore.
Do you read many books?
Yea, I read constantly. This tour has been strange, I haven’t been able to read very much because drives have been long but my favorite author is John Irving. He wrote “A Prayer For Owen Meany” and “The Cider House Rules”. He is very inspiring to me. Every book that John Irving wrote is absolutely well worth purchasing.
What do you like listening to?
Well we have been listening to those cds but in general I like listening to things that have really pretty lyrics. Like The Weakerthans is a band that when we were in CA we stayed with Darren from Hopeless Records and he was kind enough to give me a Weakerthans cd. Initially I heard it and was like “this is fairly good, I kind of enjoy it” and then I listened to the lyrics more and I was so floored that I started calling my friends and was like “you have to go out and buy this record.” Its just phenomenal.
What or who has been your biggest influence?
My mother has been the biggest influence on me. Strongest person I’ve ever, even now being an adult and being in the world not under her wing, I still think shes the strongest person. Ive never met anyone who is as strong and capable as she is, and she is a big influence on my music to. She is a singer and pianist and is phenomenal at both, much better then I will ever be at what I do. And she always encourages it forever, and she never discouraged me when I wanted to take time of college. I mean she was never happy that I wanted to take a break from school but she understood, shes great.
Being from Florida, what do you think of the election?
Well whats funny was that I left and realized that I didn’t register to vote and the fact is I would have voted for Nader anyway, but I felt like a hypocrite. I cant remember what state I was in, somewhere really cold though, I can remember that much, when the election blew up. I was kinda making jokes and then they were like “palm beach county” and I didn’t even vote so I cant be makin cracks so I felt pretty stupid, I was really disappointed in myself so I cant knock the voting system when I wasn’t even a part of it this time. But it was weird because at one point I was in Connecticut, which was where I grew up. I moved here when I was in my sophomore year of High School, and like they were making fun of me they were like “yea you moved to Florida, you should move back here look at they blew the election.” It really could have just happened anywhere, they were really close in a lot of places.
What do you think of Napster?
Now the people at my label would probably shoot me for saying this, but I think Napster is the greatest thing ever. I think Napster has a lot to do with the fact that people know my lyrics, Im a big proponent of it and I really believe, I guess I think differently, but I really believe that if they are gonna like the record they are gonna buy the record because they might wanna read the lyrics, and read the thank yous, and see the pretty artwork. Im selling a lot of CD’s a night and those kids already know the words so I really believe that it works. And ya know, I don’t own a computer. I don’t go on Napster, I’ve never been on Napster, but I’ve had people make me mix tapes and people hand me a pavement tape that they copied from their cd. And I might not buy it that week because I have that tape to listen to but eventually Im gonna go out and buy it, and I do. Sometimes the sponsor tours too.
What do you think of Britney Spears?
I’ll tell you my honest truth. I used to not like her very much. I used to think she was not as pretty as everybody says but now shes getting older and she is just ridiculously hot. So I’m a big fan, of her music to. We listen to it a lot because you can only hear so much punk rock and when you are on tour for two and a half months with punk or various punk rock bands you have to listen to Britney Spears every now and again for you’ll lose your mind.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Listen to the Movie Life.
Interview by : Josh Stern – firstname.lastname@example.org